© Anushka Bose. All rights reserved.*
Ras Tanura Beach, 2016.
The word transience often brings up ambivalent feelings for me. On one hand, while it is a word that has defined much of my life, and while it’s enthralling to get sucked into the excitement of change, the word transience is at its best bittersweet. When life feels transient, it’s impossible to create stability and predictability. How do you create roots and permanence when the very nature of life is fleeting? Maybe that is the bigger philosophical question we all contend with. For Aramcons, transience has defined and shaped much of our experience. Choosing to create [temporary] roots in the Kingdom is a decision many families make. Each one of them sacrifices an alternative reality, one that could perhaps provide more stability and roots, to engage in an experience of transience. Each one of them has to say goodbye to the places and people in their life to choose to come to the Kingdom. While everyone has a different “pull” factor that brings them to Aramco, the experience of the fleeting nature of our existence in the compound is similar. When we leave, perhaps a part of us leaves with the excitement of the ability to stay rooted in another place, one that we don’t have to say goodbye to. And maybe a part of us still longs for the impermanence/transient nature of the experience we shared.
Perhaps it’s that longing that brings back so many ex-Aramcons to visit every few years. But I wonder, what is a place without the people that it so? Can nostalgia exist in absence of the people that made our time in the compounds so memorable? Our homes aren’t our homes when we go back to visit. We might not even have the people who were with us in the Kingdom to accompany us when we return. The streets will look different, and there will be something different about the place. In countless of my interviews with former Aramcons, the common denominator that binds their experience is reflected in some variation of this statement: “I look at pictures now of the compound, and it’s unrecognizable! It’s crazy to think that this is where I grew up playing.” The simultaneous amusement and bewilderment are what I feel define the bittersweet experience that all Aramcons feel due to the nature of impermanence and transience. There’s a feeling of longing and joy when we look back at our lives in the curated American suburbs that exist in the Kingdom.
6th Street, Dhahran Main Camp, 2019.
I would love to turn the lens on you with some reflective questions that you can choose to respond to (by commenting) or mentally respond to on a Sunday morning with a cup of coffee.
- Reflecting on your experience in Aramco, how do you reconcile the ambivalent feelings of transience and permanence?
- What rituals of permanence did you create in the transient boundaries’ life of the Aramco compounds? Are these rituals you still continue elsewhere?
- What has been the hardest part about either coming to or leaving Aramco? Which goodbye felt harder?
- What would you tell your past self about the fears around making a change, such as moving across the world, and knowing what you know today?
- After departing from Aramco, what other feelings replace the bittersweet longing that you once felt? Did the joys of settling down/finding roots in another place heal some of the longings? Did your memory of your time there slowly fade or were they replaced by new memories?
To end, I’d like to share a quote by one of my favorite authors, Paulo Coelho. There’s both a sense of melancholy and peace in this quote, and I feel that much of the bittersweet and transient nature of our tenure at Aramco belongs inside the perimeters of this quote’s sentiments, especially if you were a child when you moved to Aramco.
“Anyone who has lost something they thought was theirs forever finally comes to realize that nothing really belongs to them.”
― Paulo Coelho
Anushka is a Graduate Student at Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver. She spent her youth growing up in Dhahran, where she attended Dhahran Elementary, Dhahran Middle School, and Dhahran Academy. She loves learning about new cultures and is fascinated by the diversity that brings us all together, especially the expatriate community, where the only thing that is common is that we are all different, in culture, religion, and the perspectives we hold. One day she hopes to publish a book on the third culture kid experience. Dhahran holds a big place in her heart.
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